Apr 19

Lentil Stew in Berbere Spice, plus getting comfortable with new surroundings.

When I first moved to Phoenix, Az. I was not sure I was going to like it. I mean I moved there from New Jersey where I spent the majority of my life living about 20 minutes from Manhattan. Living there you could go in just about any direction and encounter Polish food shops that make you smell like a kielbasa by the time you walk out, Spanish food that would make you swoon, Italian delis in abundance, Middle Eastern food shops that had cumin aromas, Chinese take out counters a plenty, sandwich shops where freshly sliced cured meats were pilled high on hard rolls, bakeries that baked crispy crusty bread, and get cookies from shops that melted on your tongue and went perfectly with coffee or tea.

While living in the Trenton and Princeton area of New Jersey in my last few years there you could stand on almost any intersection and hear language from anywhere in the world. With all the universities, colleges, and a huge Seminary there I felt in some ways I was more submerged in ethnicity than I was in the Northern half of the state. It was living there that Brian and I fell in love with eating sushi and spending endless hours in coffee shops sipping cappuccinos and pondering thoughts on life. It still is my most favorite area of New Jersey…and as for that coffee shop I spent endless hours in – I walked in there about two years ago and the barista looked at me and asked: ”Danielle, would you like your usual?” I kid you not. Almost 12 years later not only were some of the same staff around, but they remembered me and my drink! You do not find occurrences like that too often.

Lats time we visited our favorite coffee shop in Princeton, NJ

Last time we visited our favorite coffee shop in Princeton, NJ – Small World Coffee

When I moved to Phoenix there was such an adjustment. I didn’t find those ethnic shops on every corner. I couldn’t find a hard roll, kielbasa was vacuum sealed in plastic at the supper market, attempts at Chinese take out for a while were a bust, and of the Italian delis we explored had a somewhat sterile feeling. There might not have been Spanish restaurants to stroll into, but there was Mexican. Plenty of Mexican food. Tacos, tortas, chilis, pasole, menudo, enchiladas, and to our discovery- salsas came in so many varieties besides hot, medium or mild. We really enjoyed exploring all that we could about Mexican food.

But one evening after dinner I was telling Brian I felt there was something missing living in Phoenix. I was not homesick for New Jersey, but I missed the variety that New Jersey offered us. Everything here was a drive away. There was no walking to a corner store to grab what you need. I also didn’t feel there was a place to go and hang out at like we did at the coffee shop in Princeton. There was Starbucks (yuck!) but that was about it. They were not open late, they were a drive away, and they did not make you feel like you want to spend and hour there philosophizing. That is when Brian told me he passed a new coffee shop that opened up on his way to work. Put your shoes on and lets go. Low and behold a shop that was roasting it’s own beans right there. The owners were working the counter and the espresso they poured was damn good. They were open early, and stayed late. Finally some bit of normalcy for us.

The scenery and surrounding of Phoenix were a bit different for me to get use to.

The scenery and surrounding of Phoenix were a bit different for me to get use to.

About a month later I was reading an article about an Ethiopian restaurant in Tempe. I begged Brian to go, and finally he gave in to give it a try. When we walked in you were hit with an aroma of spices, it almost made me drunk. The nice lady who waited on us explained to us how to order and how to eat in an Ethiopian manor. It was truly a divine experience. We at with our hands and marveled at the many stewed dishes in front of us along with the Injera (crepe like bread made with teff). The best dish there was a lentil stew cooked in berbere spices. We left there with full bellies and senses pleased.  Between the coffee shop Brian discovered and this Ethiopian restaurant, living in Phoenix became a bit more tolerable.

Fast forward to today in Seattle. There are plenty of ethnic food shops to wonder into. The aromas of them are amazing and it is not uncommon we find ourselves the only non ethnic people in any one of these places. There are coffee shops on every corner, and I do not have to get in my car to get everywhere in this city. I also discovered a spice shop (again in waking distance) that sold berbere mix. (If you want to know more about this spice mix or purchase it for yourself you can find it here.) I picked some up and have been playing around trying to recreate the lentil dish of that restaurant in Tempe. Low and behold I have come close, and possibly as close as I think I could. Brian and I have been enjoying these lentils with some rice and a bright green salad on the side to cut the rich spiciness of the lentil stew. Although I have not yet attempted to make Injera, this stew is more than satisfying to curb our indulgent cravings. No matter where you move to or travel to it may take some adjustments to get use to. But what I did learn I carry with me…like lentils stewed in berbere. One of the many things I cherish and learned while living in Arizona.

Lentil Stew in Berbere Spice over Rice.

Lentil Stew in Berbere Spice over Rice.

Stewed Lentils in Berbere Spice (serves 4) 

(*Note: We personally like this mixture a bit spicy. The rice – in my opinion – mellows out the spiciness. If you prefer things a bit more mild feel free to use 1 tbsp of berber spice mix to start. you can always add more in the end.)

3/4 cup lentil (brown, green, or black variety are good)

1 small onion, chopped small

2 cloves of garlic chopped

3 tbsp of tomato paste

1 &1/2 tbsp of berber spice, ground

6 cups vegetable stock or water

sea salt to taste

First, place all the above ingredients (besides the sea salt) in a heavy bottomed pot. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Next, keep the pot at a gentle simmer. Be sure to stir it often. You are looking for the lentils to absorb almost all of the liquid of your pot. The ruminates will form a bit of a sauce.

Finally, once the lentils are cooked though and your mixture has thickened you can remove it from the heat. Season it with sea salt to your preference. If you feel you would like your mixture a bit more soupy feel free to stir in a bit more of water or stick to loosen it us a bit. If you would like a smoother consistency feel free to remove a couple of ladles of your lentils and puree in a food processor and return the mixture back to the pot and stir it all together. Serve while warm.

Apr 13

Cabbage, Sugar Snap Peas, and Crimini Mushroom Saute

There are many times when I get so busy between work and general life stuff that I begin to feel like I am not sure if I am coming or going. For reasons out of my control, or quite possibly because I can be a control freak, that is just the way I have been feeling lately. I have been on the go for weeks lately and it somewhat feels like I have been running a marathon. The beauty of it is I know there is a finish line in near sight. In the meantime I keep running, it is all good and it will balance itself in the end.

Is it uncommon to not want to cook when I have days, or weeks, like this? It can be almost too comfortable to run to the corner and pick up some Chinese, Pho, Pizza, or Thai; all within two blocks from here – such a great perk of living in this city. And let us not forget that we have recently discovered that an Indian restaurant nearby delivers… all too comfortable and easy.

IMG_9370

Cabbage, Sugar Snap Peas, and Crimini Mushroom Saute

After work the other day I walked over to one of the vendors at the market and picked up some great vegetables and fruit that are all in season and came from nearby farms. It was time to get back on track with cooking something nice for us with the refrigerator stocked with vegetables and a big bowl of fruit on the table things seemed more balanced, more normal, and functional.

One of the greatest things about cooking seasonally is that you can throw just about anything together with what you have on hand and it will always be good. The flavors and textures will compliment each other and blend in a lovely way, in some ways it is a cooking no-brainer. Sautéing savoy cabbage, mushrooms, and sugar snap peas is like a match made in heaven. I finished off the veggies with a bit of cream and it was sultry. It all was harmonious and seemed easier than take out. Cooking for yourself makes the finish line seem so approachable; that, and I am for sure it does a body good!

Ready to dig in and enjoy!

Ready to dig in and enjoy!

Cabbage, Sugar Snap Peas, and Crimini Mushroom Saute (Serves 2 – 4)

1 small head of savoy cabbage; trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced

8 – 10 crimini mushrooms; washed, trimmed, and sliced

1 cup of sugar snap peas; trimmed and cut into fourths

1 large shallot, timed and chopped small

2 tbsp butter

1/4 cup of cream

1/2 tsp dried thyme

sea salt and black pepper to taste

First, place a large 12 inch saute pan over medium heat. Once heated through add the butter to the pan and melt. Add the mushrooms and sauce until softened and they release their moisture. Once the mushrooms are soft and tender you can remove them and reserve them in a bowl for later.

Next, add the cabbage and shallot and keep stirring until it is softened a bit. To this add your sugar snap peas and stir gently. To the pan add your thyme and about 1/2 cup of water and let it all simmer and steam it all together.

Then, once the liquid in the pan begins to simmer out add your mushrooms back in and stir it well. Season the mixture with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Finally, stir your cream into the pan and coat all of your veggie mixture. Once it is heated through remove from the heat and serve.

Apr 03

Sticky Toffee Date Cake

About two years ago Brian and I traveled to London for a week. We toured museums, gazed at some awesome art, strolled though the city, saw lots of fantastic architecture, and indulged in many fantastic food items. We ate a variety of different ethnic foods within the first couple of days when I noticed that we are in London and have not had any traditional British food. So I asked the front dest at our hotel – Where do I find a good British meal? They responded with an answer that was so obvious I felt a little dumb – At any pub you will find a great traditional British meal!

So I started surveying the menus of all the pubs we came across. The menus were all pretty much the same. That was until we were walking though Notting Hill and stumbled upon a pretty large, yet quaint pub. We looked over the menu and get this…there was even vegetarian options! We sat down, had ourselves a pint each and dinned on some wonderful British food. The waitress told us that they had a great StickyToffee Pudding for dessert. You did not need to tell me twice about that. We ordered it to split, and when it came it was warm and wonderful. We scooped away at this moist and delicious toffee pudding. I don’t think we even really said anything to one another, just grinned and mumered – MMMMMMMM! But this dessert was not really a pudding. It was more like a cake that was baked into a ramekin that had a toffee sauce poured over top of it that was absorbed by the cake. Cake or pudding, either way, it was great.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake - Ready to serve!

Sticky Toffee Date Cake – Ready to serve!

Two years later I am still thinking about that dessert so much so that I am writing about it now. I needed to make it to see if I could get anything close to it in flavor and texture. I researched recipes and finally came up with something that I thought might just work. I made it and surprised Brian when he came home from work. He was just as thrilled as I was and after eating it (and going back for seconds) we both agreed that it might possibly be better than the one we had in London. I needed a second opinion. Brian wrapped up a few of the others and brought them into some of his coworkers to enjoy. They all thanked us and exclaimed it was terrific! Maybe this recipe I worked on was perfect?!? So this past week when my cousin Judy’s husband was here on business I made it again. I figured it was a perfect dessert for him since he previously lived in London for awhile. If anyone, he would give me an honest opinion. As he ate it he exclaimed that he loved it. He even told me it was better than the ones he tried while living or traveling in England. I was so pleased. I just might have the perfect recipe on my hands!

Date Cakes cooling, right out of the oven.

Date Cakes cooling, right out of the oven.

So of course I needed to share it with you here. That and I packed up two of these little cakes for Judy, I knew her husband would fly home with them safely. The following day I received and email from her asking for the recipe…I guess she was won over by it too!

In the research I did about this dessert I found out that if you roll the cake in the toffee sauce (as opposed to just pouring it over the top)  your end result will be more moist. I also increased the amount of dates (yes, dates are in this dessert) to impart a more rich yet delicate flavor to the dessert besides giving the cake a more velvety feel. This cake is quite simple to make, takes almost no time to bake and making the sauce is strait forward enough that the most difficult thing about this recipe is waiting for it to cool before finishing it all off. I did restrain myself, but that just meant there were more for me to enjoy the next day. I think this is a must try for anyone; anyone who enjoys something sweet and moist with toffee sauce to go along with it. But that is no one but me I am sure!?!

Sticky Toffee Date Cake, ready to be eaten.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake, ready to be eaten.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake (Makes about 14 – 16 servings)

**AKA Sticky Toffee Pudding

CAKE

2 cups fresh dates (pitted)

1 cup boiling water

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 scant cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

12 oz butter, plus more for greasing

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 tbsp molasses

2/3 cup milk

First, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 14 – 16  molds (be it cup cake pan, ramekins, or silicone molds). Chop the dates by hand until you have a fine chop, or place the dates in the bowl of a food processor and pulse it until your dates are chopped quite finely. Place the chopped dates in a bowl and over it pour the boiling water. Let it sit and rest so that the dates plump up and soften.

Next, in a bowl place your butter and your brown sugar. Mix it together until it is light and fluffy, Add in your eggs, one at a time until they are evenly combined and your mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla and the molasses and mix until well combined.

Then, in a bowl place your flour along with your baking soda and baking powder. Whisk it together and add half of it too your butter mixture. Mix it until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Follow with half of your milk and stir it in well. Repeat this and again make sure all is completely mixed together and smooth.

Meanwhile, strain off any of the excess water that may be in your dates, without pressing on them as you do so (you want the dates to stay as plump as possible). Gently stir the dates into your batter. It may look a bit uneven, but that is fine; it is just because they are so moist.

Finally, pour or scoop the batter into your pan / molds / ramekins until they are 1/3 full. Place them in the center of your oven and bake about 20 – 25 minutes, until they are firm and set to the touch. Let cool slightly before finishing with the sauce. (Directions and recipe below.)

TOFFEE SAUCE

2 cups dark brown sugar

4 oz butter, cut into small chunks

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp molasses

First, place a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. In the pan place your butter and dark brown sugar stirring until your sugar is dissolved as the butter has melted.

Next, add the vanilla and molasses to your cream. Slowly add the mixture to your pan stirring it constantly. You are looking for the brown sugar mixture to smooth out. You can let it simmer just a bit, but not too much as you do not want to end up with a thick sauce. Just heat through snd simmer until mixture is nice and smooth.

Then, remove the sauce from the heat and remove your cakes from what you baked them in (they should be cooled by now). Gently dip, or roll the individual cakes in the sauce. and place them on a plate or platter. Poor the remainder of the sauce over the top of the cakes.

Finally, cakes are ready to serve as it. If you will not be serving them for a day or two it is best to cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. It is best to remove from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature at east two hours before serving. When served be sure to scoop up the toffee sauce along with your cake.

Mar 25

Fresh Herb Omelette and Uncle Jimmy’s Wisdom

I was watching a TV show the other day (something I do not do often). In the show there was a breakup of a couple. In the long run I guess the premiss of the show was about being brave and moving on. As the show closed I found that I was tearing (again something I do not do often). The episode was just so touching to me. I questioned myself: Is there anything more raw than the ending of a relationship where you admit you’re sorry that it is over?

The whole thing made me think of my late Uncle Jimmy (I have written about him before here) and I had a flashback to the summer of 1993 when I graduated high school. My parents had some family over for a little B.B.Q. on a warm Sunday afternoon. We were all in the back yard, with my Uncle Frank & Aunt Fran and my Uncle Jimmy & Aunt Marge. My Uncle Jimmy looked at me and asked where Rob was. Rob was a boy I had dated through the school year. I explained to him that I did not think it was going to last between us. We were both going away to different colleges, and I was not sure we cared for each other enough to make it work.

My Uncle Jimmy in the late 1990's.

My Uncle Jimmy in the late 1990’s.

He looked at me with a concerned look and told all about his love for my aunt over the years. He explained to me that he always cared for my Aunt Marge. He told me about how they were young and she was not interested in a relationship. He explained that time passed and he always came by to see how my Aunt was, some time later as luck should have it she gave him a chance and they have been together ever since. Never feel sad about love not working out, he told me. Time will let love work itself out. In the meantime you have to live and be happy. (At the time he was telling me this he and my aunt must have been together about over 50 years.)

Eggs, and assorted Fresh Herbs for my Omelette.

Eggs, and assorted Fresh Herbs for my Omelette.

Like always, my Uncle Jimmy gave me so much wisdom. I always listened to him because in some ways it was so truthful and more honest than anything anyone else would have ever told me. If I did’t listen to him I might not be with my husband today. We met the summer my uncle and I had this conversation. My Uncle Jimmy was always full of good advice as far as I am concerned. I love thinking about things he said or expressed to me over the years.

Funny the things I remember, and can recall him telling me. Vividly I can remember him telling me about making omelettes. “I had a six egg omelette today. Keeps me strong!” I may not take him up on eating a six egg omelette, but when I make any omelette he is always on my mind. Personally I like to make my omelettes with a mixture of herbs to flavor it. I also like to be sure I get some golden brown hue on the eggs, I like the flavor it imparts on them. Most always I serve this with a fresh green salad and some oven roasted potatoes. If my Uncle Jimmy was still here I would gladly make one to share with him. I definitely think he would enjoy it. I am so thankful for the memories I have and his wisdom. I carry them in my heart.

Fresh Herb Omelette, ready to eat.

Fresh Herb Omelette, ready to eat.

Fresh Herb Omelette (serves 2)

*Note: you can use any mix of fresh herbs you feel fit. I generally l use parsley and rosemary in addition to what I used along with this one, but this is what I had on hand today. Feel free to adapt the herbs as you feel fit, but always be sure they are fresh.

4 large eggs

1/4 cup finely chopped herbs; dill, thyme, and oregano

3 tbsp heavy cream

2 tbsp of olive oil

sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

First, place a 9 inch nonstick pan over medium to high heat and heat through.

Next, crack your eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk well until all the yolks and whites are broken and combined. Add in the cream and whisk again.

Then, add your olive oil to the pan, while swirling it around to coat it well. Add your herb mix to the eggs and stir it well. Season the eggs with sea salt and fresh black pepper before adding the mixture to your hot pan.

Finally, gently tilt your pan back and forth to be sure your mixture is evenly distributed. I like to use a rubber spatula to gently nudge the edges of your egg all the way around to be sure it is not sticking to the pan. Easily flip your omelette over once it all seams set so that will gently brown on the opposite side. After a minute, and you are sure your egg is cooked through; you can slide it out of the pan and serve.

Mar 15

Vegetarian Egg Rolls

I have learned thus far in life that things are not always just one way. There are so many variations to just about everything in life. If you are like me, there is an enjoyment in learning every aspect and why. I use this approach almost always in food. I love to find out all the details, reasons, and varied possibilities that apply to any component or ingredient. This philosophy keeps your mind open and what it will sometimes do to your taste buds is priceless.

Vegetarian Egg Rolls with lettuce, soy sauce, and sweet chili sauce.

Vegetarian Egg Rolls with lettuce, soy sauce, and sweet chili sauce.

Growing up in New Jersey it was common to order Chinese take out. There was, and possible still is, a Chinese take-out just about every couple of miles. The kind of shop that has a kitchen, a counter, possibly a couple of tables, but that is about it. You phone in or walk in, place your order, and off you go with hot freshly prepared Chinese food packed neatly in foil or little cardboard containers. My sister and I often ate it for lunch with our mom or on a busy night when my dad was traveling. It was a fun little thing that “us girls” did. Each time our meals always came with pork fried rice and an egg roll. We loved to eat that pork fried rice with whatever main dish we combined it with – Cashew Chicken, General Tso, Sweet & Sour Pork, Egg Foo Young…the list can go on, don’t tempt me.

Veggies all shredded and ready for cooking.

Veggies all shredded and ready for cooking.

But the special part of the meal was the egg roll. I can always remember my sister and I loving to munch away and nibble on this wonderfully crispy fried and chewy deliciousness. These egg rolls I am speaking of were, and still are, large in size; possibly just shy from the size of a can of soda. They were always filled with shredded cabbage, other veggies, some mushroom, and ground pork.  We would always get the little plastic packets of duck sauce (which I have learned is just thin apricot preserve) to dip our egg roll into as we chewed away and grinned. My father knew we enjoyed egg rolls so much and he mentioned it to a co-worker he had who was from China. She made some of her own egg rolls for us as a treat. We were shocked to see that the egg rolls she made were tiny, enough for for just a few bites, and had a much different flavor. (It  was years latter that I came to know that flavor at Chinese Five Spice.) My mom and dad then explained to us that things can always be different depending of where they come from; different areas are known for different spices, vegetables, and so on.

Ginger, green onion, and garlic....all ready.

Ginger, green onion, and garlic….all ready.

As I grew up, traveled, and moved away, I always found it comforting to get some Chinese food and dine. I always compared it to the food my sister, mother and I dined on. I sometimes would ask the staff at the restaurant where they were from and take notice to the difference in the flavors from other places. It was my friend and lawyer Michael who taught me that his family (from Vietnam and Thailand but originated from China) always ate smaller egg rolls wrapped in lettuce leaves. I followed his lead and came to quite a liking of this. Your hand does not touch the fried exterior and the lettuce created a nice refreshing contrast in flavor. I had a co-worker named Ping here in Seattle who was from China. She often made us Chinese food for our family meals and taught me that just using garlic and keeping the veggies somewhat crunchy and fresh leads to more flavor then any sauce could ever do justice too. She also taught me how to “wrap” an egg roll. Mind you Ping was not even 5 foot tall, and her tiny hands and fingers whizzed away wrapping up those little egg rolls that always looked perfect. It was always amazing to watch her, and she was so fast at doing it.

Assembly line. Wrappers and water, filled, and rolled / wrapped. Staying organized is key.

Assembly line. Wrappers and water, filled, and rolled / wrapped. Staying organized is key.

Over the years I have tried to get a handle on making them myself. I have experimented trying best to match the flavors I enjoyed in my childhood and combined it with what I have learned from my travels and friends. The end result is quite tasty, and Brian and I enjoy them every now and again. The egg rolls we enjoy now are vegetarian, are less than half the size to what I and Brian grew up with, mildly spiced, and we eat them with lettuce along with soy sauce and sweet chili sauce to accompany them. Although I am still not as quick or fast like Ping when I make them, they are fun and delicious. Give it a try and I think you will be amazed by how simple they are and how you just made egg rolls yourself. Trying all those different egg rolls over the years has definitely paid off.

Enjoying the little egg rolls with lettuce and sweet chili dipping sauce.

Enjoying the little egg rolls with lettuce and sweet chili dipping sauce.

Vegetarian Egg Rolls (Makes about 30)

Note: You can use egg roll wrappers for this, but they are usually quite large. I like to use the Wong Ton wrappers due to their smaller size. Doubling up on the wrappers helps prevent tearing and the filling oozing when cooking. You can purchase either wrappers at an asian market or at a larger supper market. There is a difference in texture between rice wrappers or spring roll wrappers, you do not want them for this recipe. 

4 cups of shredded cabbage

1 cup shredded carrot

1 cup shredded celery

1 1/2 cup of small chopped shiitake mushrooms

1 bunch green onions, trimmed and chopped finely

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp freshly grated ginger

sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1/4 cup soy sauce, plus more

2-3 cups peanut oil

1 – 2 packages of Wong Tong Wrappers *(see note)

1 head green leaf lettuce- washed,and cut into even hand held pieces

2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Sweet Chili sauce for dipping

First, place a large sauté pan (about 10 – 12 inches) over medium heat a heat through. Add the peanut oil and once it is heated though add your cabbage, celery, carrot and mushrooms. keep stirring it until it wilts and most of the moisture that releases from the veggie is cooked out. (You might need to add a bit more of oil if you feel the pan is getting too dry and the veggies are sticking.)

Next; add the ginger, green onion, and garlic over your veggies and stir well. Let is all sizzle together and sprinkle it all with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Add in the 1/4 cup of soy sauce and stir well and heat through. At this point taste it and see if you feel the seasoning is where you like it and adjust as needed. Place the mixture aside to cool before making your egg rolls.

Then, get all your components together to make your egg rolls. I like to do this all on a cutting board, but a counter or a table works just as well. Place a frying pan filled with about 2 cups of peanut oil over medium heat. Have your wrappers lined up with your veggie filling nearby, along with a small bowl of water. Line up two wrappers at a time, staggering them, scoop a small amount of veggies along the center of the wrappers. Wipe the edges of the wrapper with you finger dipped in the water to moisten the edges. Fold the bottom corner up and over the filling, fold the edges over to cover the bottom, and roll the rest of the egg roll up to seal the top half over it. The moistened edges will help see it together.

Meanwhile, after you seal a few egg rolls your oil should be heated through. Gently lay the egg rolls into the oil, a few at a time, and let them fry until nicely golden rotating to be sure it is evenly cooked on all sides. Once the egg rolls are evenly cooked remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Repeat the process, be sure not to wrap all your egg rolls too early or they might dry out or stick together. I prefer to get into a rhythm and do a few at a time.

Finally, once your egg rolls are done you can platter them up with the lettuce along side. Sprinkle the egg rolls with the toasted sesame seeds. Serve with both soy sauce and sweet chili sauce for dipping.

Mar 01

Potato, Kale, and Bean Soup with Chorizo

Being that a huge majority of our family is back east, it is hard not to see the weather they are experiencing and wonder: How did we get so lucky? My Aunt and Uncle are in Massachusetts and when I spoke with them this week they said they have four foot snow drifts. (You read that right, four feet!) I could not help but chuckle as my aunt said to me, “I never remember paying someone so much in one month to help us remove all this snow!” As always I said to them you can always visit Seattle, it has been partially sunny and in the 50’s all week.

When I spoke with my parents and in-laws (both in N.J.) they explained how bitter cold it is, but they have hoped it will warm up a bit. By warm up I know they mean anything other than the 5 degrees it was will be better. This all got me to thinking, when Brian and I were looking to relocate and start over again 5 five years ago we canvased the entire country. We played out all our options. We compared job opportunities – city life – culture – price of rent, and last but most importantly – weather! After discussing options in Chicago, Boston, New York, or Philadelphia; we both came to the assumption that we did not have any aspirations to deal with another east coast winter. That is how we got lucky.

Leeks simmering away.

Leeks simmering away.

We somehow knew that anywhere from San Francisco and north of there would be good for us. I know as crazy as it may sound, when we weighted out the sides it basically came down to either the harsh east coast winter verse the seldom chance of an earth quake. Yes, you guessed it. Slight chance of earth quake won…Did I mention that we like to live on the edge just a bit?

As I was thinking of all of our family and how chilly they might be, I made a soup that I wish I could share with all of them. It was a hearty bean, potato, and kale soup that you stir browned chorizo into when you plate it. I knew that if anything could warm any of them up this soup would be it! As we ate it we felt all warm and cozy, like we were wrapped up in a cozy knit blanket. I served it with some crusty bread and manchego cheese that paired perfectly. In my opinion this soup was so good it could make anything more tolerable, be it four foot snow drifts or single digit temperatures. This soup was so good I might just go back to the market to get more kale so I can make it again this week. To all my family and friend on the east coast: bundle up, stay warm, and eat soup.

Warm and cozy Potato, Kale, and Bean Soup with Chorizo.

Warm and cozy Potato, Kale, and Bean Soup with Chorizo.

Potato, Kale, and Bean Soup with Chorizo (serves 6)

**Note: Spanish Chorizo is a bit more mild in spice than that of Mexican Chorizo. If you like a bolder, more spiced flavor feel free to substitute one for the other. Or you can serve the soup with your favorite hot sauce, and you can add the amount of spice that you like.

3 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts (washed well)

3 cups diced russet potato (peeled)

3 tbsp olive oil

2 cups small chopped kale, stems and ribs removed

1 can butter beans (15 oz), rinsed and drained

1/2 tsp dried thyme

4-6 links of Spanish chorizo, casing removed and chopped

6 cups chicken or veggie stock

sea salt and black pepper to taste

First, place a large pot over medium heat and warm through. Add two tbsp of olive oil to the pot and warm up. Add your leeks and let them simmer until softened, stirring them often.

Next, once your leeks are wilted add the potato and stir to mix it all together. Add the thyme and cover with the stock and bring it all to a simmer. Let it simmer until your potatoes are tender and about to fall apart when pressed against the side of the pot.

Then, add in the beans and kale to the pot and bring a simmer again. Do not let it boil and reduce it’s liquid too much, if so you can add a bit of water to the pot to keep it soupy and not too thick.

Meanwhile, place a large nonstick pan over high heat. Add your remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is heated through add your chorizo (a bit at a time) and let it sizzle and stir often. Once the chorizo is browned, remove from the pan and let drain on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat until all the chorizo is cooked.

Finally, when the potatoes have broken down a bit and the kale is soft your soup is ready. Season it with sea salt and black pepper to taste and serve. Ladle the soup into your bowls and spoon in the chorizo and enjoy.

Feb 23

Moist Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Icing

One of the huge advantages of living and working in Seattle is that you have a vast array of vendors at your fingertips over at Pike’s Place Market. I really love it and I have gotten to know several of the vendors quite well. It is not uncommon for me to get hugs from some of them, some shout out “Hello chef” as I pass by (a bit embarrassing I will admit), they will always tell you the latest and greatest of what they have that day, and often they are eager to hand you samples to taste. It is not uncommon on days that before 11 A.M. I have smelled mushrooms, sampled cheeses, tasted herbs, and have taken bites of fruit so fresh and ripe I swoon.

Some of the ripe bananas and the oranges I picked up from the market.

Some of the ripe bananas and the oranges I picked up from the market.

I often stop off at some of the vendors on my way home from work. Sometimes I  come home with different fruits and veggies for the week. There are other days I come home with anything from fresh truffles, ramps, green garlic, and just about anything that you wouldn’t find at your average corner market. We (Seattlites) are so lucky to have this all a pulse away. Most importantly, I love that I can walk up at any given time and ask any vendor “What is good this week?” and they openly tell you what you should and should not get. While I was being told at how fabulous some of the new oranges were the vendor looked at me and said, “I have bananas so ripe right now I need to get rid of them. I will give you a bunch for $1-.” You do not need to ask me twice about something like that.

The makings of really good peanut butter cream cheese icing.

The makings of really good peanut butter cream cheese icing.

So I headed home with my oranges and bananas and pondered what to make. I placed the bananas in a bowl at home and gave it a day to think about it. By the next morning I had my heart set on a cake. Why it was just a couple weeks ago I made banana muffins, so it was logical that I graduate on to CAKE! And not just a plain old banana cake, I was thinking of a chocolate chip banana cake with peanut butter cream cheese icing. I stopped in at the dairy vendor at Pike’s Place Market on my way home to get some fresh buttermilk for the cake. In my opinion, if you want a moist banana cake you need buttermilk!

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake filled and topped with Peanut butter Cream Cheese Icing.

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake filled and topped with Peanut butter Cream Cheese Icing.

By the time evening rolled around my apartment smelled fantastic as that banana cake baked. I let the cake cool and chill over night and the following day I prepared the icing. Slicing the cake to fill and also top it with the icing was perfection. The banana cake is really moist and a rich peanut butter cream cheese is not too sweet and compliments it perfectly. The bits of chocolate chips through out the cake offset the buttery sweetness of both the cake and icing. Brian and I each had a slice after dinner and savored every bit. I brought a big portion to work the next day to share with others in the kitchen. Brian brought a reasonably large piece with him to the office as well. My kitchen staff and Brian’s office enjoyed it so much many came back for seconds. I’m not judging…it is pleasing to see so many enjoy something you loved to make. And to think: If the vendor at the market didn’t let me know how great the bananas were this whole cake might have never happened!?!

Indulging in this delicious cake! (I think I need seconds.)

Indulging in this delicious cake! (I think I need seconds.)

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Icing (serves 30)

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake (one 10 inch and one 6 inch cake)

3 cups AP flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cups sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

8 oz butter (room temperature)

3 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (4 bananas)

1 cup buttermilk

1 bag of dark chocolate chips (10 oz)

First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Grease, parchment line, and flour two pans (shape of your preference) and set aside.

Next, in a bowl mix together you flour, baking soda, and salt – place tit aside. in the bowl of a standing mixer place your butter and both your sugars and mix with a paddle attachment until it is smooth and well combined. Add the vanilla and eggs (one at a time) until well combined. Be sure to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl so that it is well combined. Add in your mashed bananas and mix evenly.

Then, add a bit of your flour mixture and mix until just combined. Follow with a bit of you buttermilk and gently mix until combined. Repeat the process in two more steps until all your batter s well combined. Fold in your chocolate chips. Pour the batter evenly into your two pans and place in the center of your oven. Bake about 45 minutes rotating half way though. You are looking for the cakes to be firm and set, and have a thin knife or toothpick test the cake cleanly – with no gooey cake batter stuck to it.

Finally, let the cake cool to room temperature in the pan for about two hours. Then, place it in your refrigerator over night. The next morning, pop your cake out of the pan, remove the parchment, and slice each cake in half horizontally. Proceed with the icing recipe below.

NOTE: It is always best to pop a cake out of the pan once chilled in it overnight. You will see it almost always will pop out smoothly and in one piece. Also, it is best to slice a cake when completely chilled. It will result in your cake slicing more cleanly, neatly, and without many crumbs.

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Icing

12 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)

8 oz butter (room temperature)

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups creamy peanut butter (organic)

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

First, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment place you butter and cream cheese and mix on medium until the butter and cream cheese are well combined. You want to be sure there are now lumps of either ingredient and that it is all smooth. Add in your peanut butter and mix again to combine. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that all your mixture is well combined and smooth.

Next, add in your vanilla and combine well. Then slowly add your powdered sugar with the salt, a little at a time until all is mixed and well combined. You are looking for the mixture to be smooth and easily spreadable. If you feel the mixture is too stiff you can add 1 – 2 tbsp of milk at a time while mixing to thin out the icing and make it as soft and spreadable as you like.

Finally, scoop some of the icing you mixed onto one half of the cut sides of the cake. You will want to do this for both sized cakes, Spread the icing out to all the sides of your cake evenly. Top the icing you spread with the other half of the cake  for each size, Again spread the reminder of the icing over the top of each cake. If your like you can swirl the icing to make it look pretty, but smooth works just as well. You can top the smaller cake above the larger one, chill if not serving right away, but let sit out at room temperature for an hour before eating. (Cake should last for up to a week.)

NOTE: If you feel necessary you can place the smaller cake on a piece of plastic wrapped card board cut to match, but only if you are worried about the two cakes touching. one another. I let them sit directly on one another and they separated finely.

 

Feb 19

Kumquat and Rosemary Chicken (with wine braised vegetables)

When you work in a restaurant life can sometimes be difficult. Maybe I should retract that sentence? I do love what I do. I could not imagine myself in any other line of work really. There are times however that attack you in this business. Times like Valentine’s Day for example; all you end up doing is thinking about the upcoming holiday — What do I have to prep? What do I need to order? How am I going to get it all done? What if I didn’t order enough chocolate? What if the fruit is not ripe in time? All other things in life get put to the way side…sleep, relaxation. hobbies, friends, family, and just about anything personal. Then; before you know it the big day comes and goes. You survived! (On very little sleep!) You look back at it and laugh in due time making it all worth it in the end.

That is where I have been. No time for fun, just work and more work. There was an evening where it got to be too much and Brian took me out. I had a slice of pizza and a pint of hard cider.  I ate and drank and vented a lot. Came home afterward to fall fast asleep, I really needed that decompression that evening. I owed Brian big time for dealing with my stress during what most couples perceive as a great holiday.

Kumquat and Rosemary Marinade

Kumquat and Rosemary Marinade

It all got me to thinking about Brian and our relationship. I must admit that sometimes I feel a bit guilty about what I prepare for us to eat daily. You see, I made a conscious decision to become a vegetarian. I wanted and felt the change was necessary in my life. My husband was fully supportive but on the other hand did not feel the need to make the change for himself. It makes me feel bad that he primarily eats a plant based diet due to me. He insists he does not mind, and says he feels he is better for my influence. Somehow, I will always feel bad that he is eating another vegetarian meal when I cook for us.

Chicken pieces marinating and developing lots of flavor.

Chicken pieces marinating and developing lots of flavor.

I have stated on here before I do not mind cooking meat, I just make sure it is consciously done. That and the fact that I studied all types of food in culinary school, I do know what I am doing when faced with a piece of raw protein. If I do not dabble with it once in a while I worry I will lose my knack. That is why I challenged myself, that and I really felt that Brian deserved it. I wanted to make a seasonal chicken dish. I was able to pick up fresh kumquats and rosemary at the market and used them to marinate and bake the chicken. The end result was a bright and flavorful chicken that was just as juicy as it was tangy. It all baked over some wine braised veggies and served over some cracked bulger wheat. A meal worthy for all the non-meat meals he is faced with regularly. Not to mention a meal worth dealing with my agony of restaurant holiday stress. Maybe a good chicken dish can comfort any meat eater, I will stick with my veggies though.

Baked Kumquat Rosemary Chicken with the wine braised vegetables - freshly out of the oven.

Baked Kumquat Rosemary Chicken with the wine braised vegetables – freshly out of the oven.

Kumquat Rosemary Chicken with Wine Braised Veggies (feeds 4)

**If you cannot find kumquats feel free to use oranges, tangerines, or lemons. If you are not familiar with kumquats, they are really small fruits in the citrus family. All is edible on them – skin and all. The flavor is somewhat like a sweeter lemon or a tart orange.

1 1/2 cup chopped kumquats

2 tbsp rosemary sprigs

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbsp sea salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

5 – 6 chicken pieces (thighs and breasts)

1 yellow onion; trimmed, halved and cut into strips

3 carrots; peeled, trimmed, and chopped into 1 inch pieces

4 stalks of celery,trimmed and chopped into 1 inch pieces

1 cup of dry white wine

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First; in a large bowl mix together your kumquats, 1/4 cup of olive oil, rosemary, 2 tbsp of sisal, and 1 tsp of black pepper. place your chicken pieces in the bowl and toss all together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 – 4 hours.

Next, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a large baking dish (about 9 by 13 inch with a rim at least 2 – 3 inches tall) place your onion, carrot, and celery. Pour the wine over it all and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Remove the marinating chicken from the refrigerator. Place the chicken along with the kumquats and rosemary evenly over the veggies.

Then, place the whole dish in the oven and bake together for about an hour. You will see that the chicken will start to render into the veggies and wine. The chicken will begin to turn golden and brown evenly. (You can check the chicken for it’s “doneness” if you are concerned.)

Finally, once the chicken is browned and the veggies are tender you can remove the dish from the oven. Let it settle and rest about 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm and with the veggies and the juices from the overall dish.

Feb 02

Banana Buckwheat Muffins with Pecans

Our dog Latte woke me up early last Sunday. Her ear was itchy and it needed to be cleaned. She decided to let me know by pacing, panting, continually scratch, and shake her hear right next to my pillow. So I dragged my but out of bed, cleaned her ear while still half a sleep, and instead of going back to bed I camped out on the couch with her and turned on the TV.

To my surprise a Mad Men marathon was on AMC. It no longer bothered me that I was up so early on a day off. Now I was a very happy girl; I sat in my PJ’s with Latte and indulged in one of the greatest time period television series ever. I have written on here before about my love for the show and making a “1960’s themed” dinner to celebrate the show with. Why do I love the show you might ask? There are so many reasons. It could be that it is simply beautifully written. It takes you back in time without really feeling “fictional” and it make you love such a flawed character like Don, the leading man. That is when you know there is good writing involved. I have not loved a character or writing like this since the Sopranos or Breaking Bad.

Mad Men, Muffins, and tea...a great Sunday morning.

Mad Men, Muffins, and Tea…a great Sunday morning.

While indulging myself in some Mad Men marathon time, my stomach started to growl. By now, I had walked the dogs during a commercial break and Brian was awake and zoned in on the marathon as well. I asked him what he would like to eat: waffles, pancakes, muffins? Brian’s response: Muffins!?! This was the perfect opportunity for some banana muffins made with buckwheat flour. I whipped up the muffins as fast as I could…I did not want to miss a moment of the marathon.

Muffins cooling, fresh out of the oven.

Muffins cooling, fresh out of the oven.

While the muffins were baking I heated our tea kettle, muffins and tea are perfect for a lazy Sunday morning. The apartment smelled wonderful as they baked and even more enticing as they cooled. As the series marathon was on its last episode of the morning we watched and nibbled on our warm moist muffins. We sipped our tea and basked in how good a lazy Sunday can be. Im so happy my Latte woke me up. If she didn’t I might have missed out on my Mad Men fix and not have had muffins!

Banana Buckwheat Muffin with Pecans - ready to be devoured.

Banana Buckwheat Muffin with Pecans – ready to be devoured.

Banana Buckwheat Muffins with Pecans (makes 16 muffins)

1 cup Buckwheat flour

1 cup AP flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

4 oz butter, melted

1 egg

1 cup of milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large bananas, very ripe & mashed

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

1 tbsp sugar (optional)

cupcake wrappers

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line your cupcake pan with your cupcake wrappers. In a bowl whisk together both your sugars, melted butter, egg, and vanilla until smooth.

Next, in a separate bowl add your flours, baking powder, and sea salt. Stir it all together. Gently mix the four into your sugar mixture. mix it all until well combined.

Then, fold in your banana and pecans. Once it is all well combined you can fill your cupcake wrappers up to 3/4 full. If you like you can sprinkle the top the the muffins with the reserved tablespoon of sugar.

Finally, place the muffins in the oven and bake about 18 – 25 minutes. You are looking for the muffin tops to be firm yet springy when tapped. Let them cool about 10 minuted before serving and enjoying. Will keep for up to four days at room temperature wrapped in plastic.

Jan 29

Super Bowl food for the non sports fan!

If you know anything about me, I am not a sports fan / follower. Yes, come the Olympics we try to stay up on events. When the World Cup comes around I love to hear the stats and facts of teams across the world. The World Series, anything basket ball related, and Super Bowl – we are lucky if we know when and what is going on about it. In many ways we are the outcasts to our family over all of this.

Ingredients all lined up and ready.

Ingredients all lined up and ready.

Growing up, my family did lots of stuff around sports. During football season it was not uncommon to find my father in his recliner with my sister in a chair next to him watching the Giants. If you were to go to my Uncle Frank and Aunt Fran’s home my uncle always had baseball or basketball on the TV. And as far as my Uncle Bill was concerned – he was always watching, playing, coaching, or refereeing whatever was in season. I, however, never shared these passions. When I first started dating my husband it was a breath of fresh air that he did not have any fascinations with sports, and yet his family did. His Auntie Orch and Uncle Dave were die hard Yankee and baseball fans. His father and brother are avid Giant fans. Upon first moving to Phoenix we were back in New Jersey for a family wedding the following September. When we came down for breakfast in the morning my father-in-law asked, “The Cardinals are playing the Giants! Who are you rooting for?” We both responded the same way, “Are you talking about baseball or football?” My father-in-law had a disgusted look on his face and replied with: “I have no hope with either of you!”

Layer Dip in a glass plate looks great because you can see all the layers.

Layer Dip in a glass plate looks great because you can see all the layers.

Needless to say; whether we are in New Jersey, Phoenix, and now Seattle – it really does not matter what sport is playing. We just don’t follow it. But in the last two years it has been strange. We have a winning football team (the Seahawks) an neither of us have any clue about it. Last week as we are watching 80’s cult film classics we can hear roars of cheering outside – that is our indication that the Seahawks just had a good play. Some might find it odd. I mean the entire city is into it. Despite all the sports fanatics that my husband and I grew up with nothing compares to the amount of Seahawks propaganda that is everywhere you turn. Not to mention, the city kind of shuts down when a game is being played; by this I mean I could take Martini and Latte for a walk down the middle of 1st street and there wouldn’t be a car or person in sight! I find it a bit eerie to tell you the truth. I never saw or experienced anything like this while living in New Jersey or Phoenix.

Layer Dip with Tortilla Chips

Layer Dip with Tortilla Chips

So, I must admit that I find it strangely odd that last year the Seahawks go to the Super Bowl in – New Jersey. This year, the Seahawks will be playing the Super Bowl in – Phoenix. It is like there is a conspiracy in some way to get us involved in a sport we could care less about. So while I came to this realization I made a meal the other night fit for a Super Bowl party. This is something I would have made while I lived in New Jersey – thinking it was “Mexican food”, only to realize after living in Phoenix for ten years that it is nothing close to what Mexican food really is. I have lived and learned (about food) but as far as sports are concerned I still know very little. But Brian and I are happy that way! As for our Super Bowl type food – it was good and tasty; but you will still not see us eating it while watching the game! That is just unheard of.

Layer Dip scooped and ready to dive in.

Layer Dip scooped and ready to dive in.

Super Bowl Layer Dip (serves 6-8)

1 can of refried beans

1 small container of sour cream

1 container of your favorite salsa

1-2 large avocado (diced or mashed)

1 serrano or jalapeno chili, minced

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tbsp of minced onion

sea salt to taste

1 lime, juiced

1 – 2 cups of grated cheddar cheese (I personally like a smoked one)

1 small can of black olives, sliced

3 – 4 radishes, chopped small

2 – 3 cups of shredded romaine lettuce

Tortilla chips for scooping.

First, in a glass pie plate spread the refried beans down evenly. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl mix the avocado, garlic, onion, chili, lime juice, and sea salt. Combine until well blended and set aside.

Next, layer the remainder of your ingredients evenly and carefully on top of the beans. I personally like to add the sour cream above the beans, followed by the avocado mix. Be sure to be gentle while spreading and layering. If you press down on amy of it too hard you will mix up your layers. Pour your salsa over it all in as even as a coating as possible.

Then, top all of it with an even layer of your cheese. Above the cheese, sprinkle your lettuce evenly. Tope it all with the olives and radishes. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to eat, at lest a hour before eating or up to a day ahead.

Finally, remove from the refrigerator and serve chilled. Have your Tortilla chips on the side and enjoy.

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